New Janesville School District tool focuses on improvement
Expectations for teachers
Click here to view the criteria being used in discussions with teachers about how to improve teacher performance.
JANESVILLE "The conversations" are coming.
The conversations should be exhilarating, inspiring and fun for a lot of teachers, said Janesville public schools Superintendent Karen Schulte.
For some teachers, however, they will fall short of fun. They’ll be hearing from their principals about how they should improve.
Principals will start calling teachers into their offices this month.
The annual conversations will be “critical to the success of our organization,” said Steve Sperry, the director of administrative and human services.
The goal is for employees to reach their full potential, Sperry said.
Conversations will be based on a list of traits that great teachers should have and that not-so-great teachers should improve on.
The traits describe teachers in three levels: high-performing, middle-performing and low-performing. In shorthand, this is called the HML (high, middle, low) process.
To explain what officials have in mind, it helps to consider what HML is not:
-- It’s not a rating system, officials insist. There’s no list of high-, medium- and low-performing teachers.
-- It’s not an evaluation system. The district already has a formal evaluation system, and this won’t take its place.
-- There has been no talk of turning the process into a teacher merit-pay system, Schulte said.
“I do not believe this will lead to merit pay,” said teachers union President Dave Parr.
What HML is, is a procedure for bosses to tell employees how they’re doing and how they can improve. It’s something bosses everywhere do; this is a standardization of the process, officials said.
“I don’t think we can afford to not address employee attributes or employee traits,” Sperry said. “By not doing so, I think we risk the integrity of our profession, and we also risk the important goal of educating children.”
Nobody will lose a job over this, but knowing where you stand in the eyes of the boss may help you consider other employment, officials said.
District officials developed the HML process last summer without teacher input, according to a letter sent to teachers last week.
Principals have already had the conversation with their bosses. Now, it’s being rolled out to teachers.
Officials said they’ve spent considerable time training principals so that everyone conducts the process the same way.
“When a teacher transfers from one school to another, the expectations will be the same,” Parr said.
The HML process is part what the district calls its Journey to Excellence. It’s based on the quality-improvement theories of Quint Studer and his Studer Group, a consulting company that specializes in the health-care field and donating its resources to make the process work in Janesville public schools.
“Many health-care organization leaders are spending 80 percent of their time on the 5 percent of employees who are not meeting expectations,” according to Studer Group’s website. “Although we wish the low performers would leave our organizations, they are tenacious. …”
Sperry said the district has done such a good job of hiring teachers that the percentage of low performers will be lower than what Studer might predict.
The district’s hiring process has been revamped in recent years. A key part of it is the “peer interview,” in which groups of employees have a say in who gets hired. That gives those employees a stake in making sure the new teacher is successful, Sperry said.
One of the negative traits on the lists is questioning of the peer interview process.
That’s not to say people shouldn’t ask questions, but “if people believe it’s not effective for the district … then I would guess at some point that the district would not be a match for them,” Schulte said.
The same goes for another negative trait: questioning whether all students can learn.
Schulte said many high-performing teachers had been invited to the Studer Group’s conferences called TYYO, or Taking You and Your Organization to the Next Level, where the approach was explained.
Teachers at those meetings were enthusiastic about it, saying they wanted to hear what they were doing right and how they could improve, Schulte said.
And feedback has been a constant complaint in surveys of teachers, Schulte said.
Even so, the announcement that these conversations were about to start surprised some teachers who contacted the Gazette. Union leaders brought it up at a meeting about 12 days ago, and word spread.
Parr said the district had planned to announce it at the end of January, but about one-third of teachers already had been to TYYO meetings, Parr said, so it should not have been a surprise to many.
A letter from Schulte and Parr, along with the lists of traits, was sent to teachers Jan. 12.
“Our school district is continuing to create a culture where employees feel valued, where all of us have a say in how we will continue to improve the performance and perception of our school district,” the letter reads. “… Everyone has the right to know what is expected of them. Everyone has the right to know how well they are accomplishing their tasks.”
Parr said he doesn’t think teachers will actually be told they are low performers.
“I don’t know that someone has to have a word associated with their performance. That’s not the intent here,” Sperry said. “The intent is to have some kind of change take place.”
Schulte said high performers are not perfect. They might have negative traits. From day to day, the traits they exhibit might fall into the high, middle or low categories.
The process seeks to help teachers see where they need to improve and then to show them that their principals will help them achieve the improvements, Sperry said.
The high performers will receive the feedback that they want and but that some have never gotten, Schulte said.
“They’re going to be feeling pretty darn good about themselves,” Sperry said.
And for those who hear negatives, that can be a positive, too, Schulte said.
“I think everyone wants to improve,” she said.
“I really think in the end that they’re going to be pretty satisfied with this process,” she added.